National Park Service
US Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Interpretive Development Program

Getting Started

Which competencies are for you?

A competency is a combination of knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviors which, when acquired, allows employees to perform a task or function at a specifically defined level of proficiency. The competencies required for any interpretive job are directly dependent on the position description and duties of that position.

Depending on the duties of their positions, interpreters engage in a wide variety of work and have a diversity of responsibilities. Some interpreters are permanent, some seasonal; many are volunteer or non-paid; while some work for partner or non-NPS organizations. Regardless of whom you work for, how long you work each year, or whether you're brand new to interpretation or an experienced interpreter, the charts below will help you match the work you do with the appropriate interpretive competencies and professional development opportunities to achieve them.


Working with your supervisor

All interpreters should discuss their positions with their supervisors to best determine the appropriate competencies, developmental opportunities and priorities for their positions. Documents like position/job descriptions, performance plans, organization charts, and annual work plans can all be used to help describe the work and what competencies are required for successful performance. Consider partnering with your supervisor (or your employees if you supervise others) to develop "Individual Development Plans" to help guide your professional development for your current job and potential future career.

Select the "tab" below that best describes the type of work you typically perform. Some interpreters may perform duties found under several of the tabs below.


The knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviors (described as "Entry," "Developmental" and "Full Performance" on the "Competencies" pages) required by front-line interpreters varies greatly depending on their positions. Essential competencies needed by almost all interpreters include: "Foundations," "Informal Visitor Contacts" and "Interpretive Talks." Depending on the specific duties of the position, other interpretive competencies will also be needed.

...provide information to visitors (Information Center, Roving, etc.)


...present talks to park visitors.


...lead walks, hikes, tours, etc.


...deliver illustrated programs.


...present programs for
school groups and
family groups.


...write interpretive publications
(site bulletins, waysides, websites)


...plan park-wide interpretive events, programs and services.


...develop interpretive media.


...supervise, manage and train volunteers
and interpreters.



"Specialist" interpretive positions might include jobs like Education Specialist, Visual Information or Media Specialist, and Volunteer Program Coordinators. In addition to competency in many of the front-line interpretive skills and abilities, these positions require specialty knowledge and skills like curriculum development, graphic arts, volunteer management skills, and a range of other technical abilities.


Training modules exist for the following competencies:

  • Interpreting Archeological Resources
  • Education Specialist: Developing Curriculum Based Services

In development -- competencies that support the work of specialists include:

  • Interpreting Climate Change
  • Working with Youth
  • Interpreting the Civil War
  • Working with Media Contractors
  • Facilitating Dialog/Civic Engagement



"Supervisors" and "Chiefs" (managers) of interpretation need in-depth familiarity with many of the front-line interpretive competencies, but also need other essential skills like supervision, administration, human resources, planning, public affairs, and partnerships.

Competencies for Chiefs of Interpretation

Chief of Interpretation professionals in the 21st Century need to be able to demonstrate competency in each of the following areas.  The competencies are grouped by Core Qualifications that are used consistently throughout the government.


  • Flexibility and Resilience*
  • Strategic Thinking*
  • Pathfinding
  • Leading the Change Process
  • Communicating Vision and Change


  • Conflict Management*
  • Teambuilding*
  • Developing Others*
  • Leveraging Diversity*


  • Civic Engagement
  • Political Savvy*
  • Managing, Administering, and Sustaining Coalitions and Partnerships
  • Assessing the Need, Creating, and Building Coalitions and Partnerships


  • Financial Management*
  • Human Capital Management*
  • Informational Technology Management
  • Compliance Planning


  • Accountability*
  • Customer Service*
  • Technical Credibility*
  • Problem Solving*
  • Decisiveness*
  • Entrepreneurship*
  • Facilitate Meaning Making
  • Enriching Lives


Bold=competencies in bold font have been defined for NPS Chiefs of Interpretation.  For more information, use the links on this page.

*= competencies with an asterisk are shared by many government employees.  They have been described by OPM, in a generic manner, for all developmental levels.  For detailed information, click here. (link to OPM Competency Dictionary).

Where to begin? 

The suggested approach to learning and development depends on individual needs.  Employees in the career field may engage in leadership opportunities at all levels of development.

  • Aspiring Chiefs and Supervisors should work toward some basic competence associated with each of the ECQs. Competencies are listed in rough order in which they should be attained; starting at the top of each list is a logical approach.
  • New Chiefs should look at their position description and consult with their Supervisor to self-assess and identify strengths and gaps in KSABs, focusing on areas of greatest need.
  • Experienced Chiefs should survey the entire list and double check for overall 21st Century currency, paying special attention to the Top Ten competencies.  Consult a Competency Dictionary to prepare for other leadership roles.